I recently worked with a client that had figured out half the formula for content marketing. The problem was the other half.
The company had invested many thousands of dollars into building a library of white papers written by professional business communicators, but it then hid this treasure on its website behind a byzantine registration wall that involved email confirmations, a membership form and renavigation from the home page.
Not surprisingly, performance was atrocious. Search engines couldn't see the content, and the haiku-like descriptions gave visitors no idea what they would get for their trouble. The company had invested in all the hard stuff but neglected the basics.
This situation isn't unusual. I recently visited the site of a large, well-heeled b-to-b software company that was bulging with white papers, e-books and videos. The problem was that access to most of the content was blocked by lengthy registration forms that led to two phone calls from salespeople. Treating your top-of-the-funnel prospects like that is risky business.
Marketers constantly wrestle with the lead-gen conundrum. They hate to spend good money on content without getting a lead in return; but getting that contact information requires hiding content where search engines and passers-by can't find it.
Much of what sits behind lead-gen walls shouldn't even be there. Early-funnel content that's intended to create awareness and build thought leadership should be easy for search engines and visitors to find. Similarly, content that's more than a year old has probably exhausted its lead-gen potential and can be exposed to the world.
If you're going to firewall content, at least give the search engines something to work with. Write robust summaries and descriptive headlines that encapsulate key points and lead people to want more. Why pay for 5,000 words of wisdom if you're only going to expose 10 of them to the outside world? See how Forrester Research and Gartner Inc. promote their paid research for inspiration.
You should also conduct a content audit. Often companies are shocked to find how many of their assets are concentrated at the top of the funnel or in one type of medium, such as white papers or slide decks.
Look at your content portfolio as a cube, with the x-axis being content type, the y-axis denoting stage of the funnel and the z-axis depicting media. You want to fill as many of those squares as possible. For example, a customer case study can be packaged as a video, text and audio interview, and angled at prospects at the middle and bottom of the funnel.
Don't be afraid to reuse content. It may be possible for a thought-leadership white paper to be easily edited and repackaged as a decision-maker's checklist. When you're paying by the word, wring the most value out of every syllable.
Paul Gillin's latest book is “Attack of the Customers: Why Critics Assault Brands Online and How to Avoid Becoming a Victim.”